Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shake Shack's 2013 Custard Challenge

Happy New Year’s Eve!  I can’t believe that the sun is setting on another year.  2013 flew by and I am looking forward to 2014 with all of the resolutions to be broken and adventures to be had.  Speaking of resolutions, I have kept one resolution in my life and, unsurprisingly, it involved food.  Many of you who follow my Instagram account (@thenewtonienne) know that, besides pictures of Newt and other food adventures, I have been inundating your feed with pictures of custard from Shake Shack.  Shake Shack is my favorite burger place in New York and, although the restaurant has expanded to quite a few cities in the world, it made its humble beginnings in a ‘shack’ in the middle of Madison Square Park.  We are lucky enough to live just twelve blocks from the Upper West Side Shack.  The custard is their version of ice cream and, each month, they release a new Custard Calendar, one for each day of the week.  My goal this year was to try all 84 custards – dubbed the Custard Challenge.  So without further ado, here they all are, in one place.  Those italicized were my favorite each month.  And to answer your question, yes, I am now super-famous.

Have a happy and sweet New Year!

January 2013

February 2013

March 2013

April 2013

May 2013

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Marshmallow Chocolate Cookies

For the second year in a row, I participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and for the second year in a row, it was well worth the anticipation, excitement and thrill to receive (and send) three dozen cookies.  This year did not disappoint.  I received some beautiful Sand Tarts from Spinach Tiger, some delicious peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips (a solid combination if I may say so) from Munching in the Mitten, and a batch of Maple Oatmeal cookies from Kristie at Kristie's Creative Touch -- these were practically breakfast for me for two days.   And the best part was that the Cookie Swap raised over $13,000 for Cookies for Kids' Cancer.  

When looking for a recipe for this year's swap, I knew it had to include chocolate (because I would be sampling the cookie and cookies with chocolate are my favorite) but also easy enough to make in a small oven, with a batter hearty enough to last through several batches and a recipe that would require minimal math.  I stumbled upon this recipe from Real Simple and, although mine look nothing like theirs (where did my marshmallows go??), they were still quite tasty and chewy (probably thanks to the disappearing marshmallows).  The melted marshmallows created an almost caramelized texture around the edges that, when removed (because they weren't the prettiest) were a delicious reward.

I sent these cookies to QuyenKarla and Mary Ellen who, I hope, received them prior to leaving for their Thanksgiving travels (poor planning on my part) and was able to enjoy them amidst all the holiday madness of a shorter-than-normal-length-of-time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

Marshmallow Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Real Simple

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
24 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

Heat oven to 350° F. Line several (or as many as you have) baking sheets with parchment. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter and half the chocolate. Microwave on high in 20-30 second increments until melted, stirring between until smooth; let cool slightly. Whisk the sugar, eggs, and vanilla into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the marshmallows and the remaining chocolate chips.  Let cool for 15 minutes. Drop tablespoon-sized mounds 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets, keeping in mind they will spread. Bake 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through.  Cookies should be firm around the edges.  IMPORTANT - Let cool nearly completely on the baking sheets before moving them or they will fall apart.  They can cool completely on wire racks.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Creamy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

It’s Feast Week!  Actually, this kicks off ‘Feast (five) Weeks’ for me since I will be eating nonstop from now until New Year’s Day at which point I will hit the ‘reset’ button for a week or two before transitioning back to my attempts at balancing diet days vs. splurge days. 

We are travelling to Virginia to be with Robbie’s family over Thanksgiving so I will be able to relax and hopefully get in my southern food fixes like Firehouse Subs and Chic-Fil-A.  We have to get there first though.  We are flying in a prop plane out of Newark early Thursday morning . . . I hope no one is offended when I bring a turkey leg on the plane.   

Here’s a Thanksgiving fun fact about me – the sweet potatoes are my least favorite item on the Thanksgiving table.  I usually get just a small spoon full because I’ll feel like it’s not Thanksgiving without all seven food groups (turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls, butter) but when I go back for seconds (and thirds) I usually leave the sweet potatoes off my plate. 

Earlier this month I stumbled upon a way that I will gladly devour them.  I made this soup because I thought Robbie would love it and I would get to play martyr by making something I dislike and then remind him of that fact while we ate.  However, I ended up loving it just as much as he did.  My annoyance turned to pride when I realized how adventurous I was being and my martyrdom speech turned into an ‘Aren’t-you-glad-I-made-something-risky-but-with-big-reward?’ conversation.  Poor Robbie.  It was incredibly easy to make but still required enough chopping and slicing so it makes you feel like you provided a solid home-cooked meal. (And could complain about all the chopping and slicing required to your loved ones.)

It’s also an excellent medium for ricotta cheese. 

Creamy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon coarsely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 
2 ½ pounds sweet potates, peeled and sliced about a quarter-inch thick
6 cups chicken broth (I made mine with bouillon cubes)
Ricotta cheese (the original recipe called for goat cheese which would be equally as delicious)

Heat the oil in a large stock pot.  Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until it begins to brown.  Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds.  Add the spices (ginger through red pepper flakes) and stir well.  Add the sweet potatoes and broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft.  Puree the soup as you see fit (I used an immersion blender).  Top with a dollop of Ricotta cheese.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pumpkin Bread, Revisited

We had our first snowfall this morning and I haven't even posted a pumpkin recipe this year!  I feel so behind. I bought a giant can of pumpkin puree and worked my way through it but my delay in sharing the recipes has been due to traveling to North Carolina for my niece's 1st birthday (and Halloween!) and a stream of work meetings that required quite a bit of my focus.  Nonetheless, visions of this pumpkin bread danced in my head throughout the busy time.

The original recipe states this is 'Vegan' but as I am not one for labels, I prefer to leave this as just pumpkin bread.  It isn't my first foray into pumpkin bread but this version is worthy of inclusion because it is a little different -- a little heartier (ie, this one has oil instead of apple sauce) and instead of using the very-convenient pumpkin pie spice, it actually calls for an assortment of fall-inspired spices.  The recipe also comes from the cookbook of one of my favorite bloggers, Joy the Baker (see more of the recipes I've tried of hers here and here). 

Today also marks the 24-hours of college basketball marathon that is the best marketing ploy ever developed since the cows and Chick-fil-A.  Robbie is actually at the Champions Classic in Chicago and will (hopefully) be pulling the mighty Blue Devils through against Kansas.  While Robbie braves the crowd and cold of Chicago, I'll stay curled up in the apartment with some coffee and pumpkin bread.  

Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook
The original recipe made two loaves but I halved everything for one loaf.  Those measurements are below.

1 7/8 cups all-purpose flour (so just a little less than 2 cups)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
7.5 ounces pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/6 cup maple syrup
1/6 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease one loaf pan.  Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and all four spices.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, maple syrup and water.  Don't whisk too hard when first incorporating or you will be drenched in water and oil.  Dump the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture and fold the ingredients together.  Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.  (NOTE: The original recipe said to bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes but my loaf was done in 45.  Probably because I was only baking one loaf and I have the worlds smallest oven so it bakes quickly.)  Let rest in the pan for 20 minutes before removing the loaf onto a cooling rack.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I awoke, early on Sunday morning, to the click-click-clicking of our heat turning on and the sssshhhhhhhhh of the steam going through the pipes.  I immediately snuggled a little more under the covers and let out a contented sigh only to realize that I had dislodged Newt from his spot on the bed.  He would subsequently meow in our faces for the next 45 minutes until he finally went back to sleep.  He's lucky he's so handsome.

Thus starts the season of coziness.  I immediately want to cook and bake anything that requires me to turn on my oven and wear my adorable oven mitts.  These mitts usually hang dormant in the warmer months because my little oven that can just barely hold a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish is actually a larger-than-normal space heater.  And you don't want to run that on days that are even slightly humid and over 72-degrees unless you plan on running your air conditioner as well (hello, energy costs).  

Cooking, and general day-to-day living, in NYC is all about balancing wants and needs, it seems. You get the apartment on the fifth floor of a walk up because you want the more-desired location.  You take the longer, local train to work but at least you can sit down and finish that book you've been lugging around for three weeks.  You have that third cookie because you just went down to the basement to change a load of clothes only to realize you left the detergent which means you have to go back up the stairs an extra, unanticipated time and therefore deserve it.  Just like Newt, this city is lucky it's so handsome. 

Another New York-city centered blogger that I enjoy following is Sydney from Crepes of Wrath.  Not only does Sydney seem to appreciate good food and restaurants as we do (and recaps her adventures with each post), but I adore her literature inspired blog name (being the English major that I am). Now that is how you name a blog.  (Not 'Bless your Tart' - which was my initial idea and now seems to be a good example of what not to do.)  Sydney, according to Anderson Cooper, has the best chocolate chip cookie recipe around.  Naturally, I had to make them.  

And the silver fox was right -- these are delicious and perfect with your first cup of coffee in the morning or your warm cup of tea at night or your Big Gulp of Diet Coke in the middle of the day.  I've had them in all instances and can't say I have a favorite setting -- just make these as soon as it is cool enough to turn on your oven.  Or, don't wait and find the balance of oven heat and counter-effective air conditioning.  The checks and balance system applies just as easily to ConEdison bills as it does to other life moments.  

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted (barely) from Crepes of Wrath

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate, roughly chopped (I used a mix of semi-sweet chips (unchopped) and a dark chocolate bar chopped up.  The use of chopped bar chocolate creates all the chocolate flecks you see in the finished product as well as the larger-than-chips bites you get throughout.)
Optional - sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahreinheit.  In a mixing bowl, beat your butter and both sugars.  Add in the whole egg and mix until combined.  Add the egg yolk and mix until combined.  Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.  In a separate bowl, mix your flour, baking soda and salt.  In equal parts, add it to the sugar mixture until just combined.  Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Fold in your chocolate.  Line baking sheets with parchment. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons worth of dough into balls and place on your sheet.  Sprinkle with sea salt if using.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes until just lightly golden and set.  Cool on the sheets for a few minutes before removing.  

According to Sydney, these keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week, or frozen for up to 3 months.  Be sure to thaw them before you eat them!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Texas Road Trip - Part Two

On Friday morning, we left Austin (see Part 1 for a recap of that leg of the trip) and headed about an hour Southeast to La Grange, TX.  La Grange was absolutely precious.  Less than 5,000 people live there but they have a beautiful, wide town square and nestled in the Southwest corner of that square is Prause Meat Market
La Grange Town Square - Are there more pick up trucks or Texas flags in this picture?
We walked in, clearly "not from around here," and gingerly walked up to the counter of fresh meat.  One lovely gentleman behind the counter welcomed us and walked us back to where they had their smoked meat (he clearly knew what we were there for). I appreciate that they keep the tradition of being a meat market front and center while the lunch place is a secondary (albeit very popular) destination.  He loaded us up with sausages, pork shoulders, and brisket.  When we saw it was cash only we got worried (we only had about $30 on us) but the final price, including soft drinks, was $13.  We further showed our naivete by laughing hysterically with relief at such a great deal then sheepishly went and sat beneath some mounted deer heads to eat.  
They don't lie in La Grange.
Their pork shoulder had almost a sweet skin on it and their brisket tasted like pot roast (which must mean they keep it in some liquid during the smoking process or prior to serving - to be determined on the next visit I guess).  It was delicious and, like I said, an incredible bargain.  We departed La Grange to head back to Houston for the last two days of our trip.  

We stayed with our dear friends Amanda and Steve and their puppies Daphne and Otis. I have known Amanda since elementary school and they were gracious enough to let us take over their guest bedroom.  Our first night there we saw the Yankees beat the Astros (and a fireworks show!) and Saturday we had a lazy day of football watching.  We grilled out Saturday night and enjoyed some delicious cajun pork ribs and stuffed pork loin from Hebert's before heading out to a real-live country music concert.  
Amanda & Steve! (This better be your Christmas card photo.)
Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley entertained us for the next few hours before we made it back home to some Apple Spice Cake (recipe to come!) and Blue Bell ice cream.  Side note - I am now obsessed with the oversize gallons of Blue Bell ice cream.  Someone needs to get these in NYC immediately. 

Daphne - wise beyond her years.

Otis - Less wise, but I still want his hair color.
I left Texas, proudly wearing a few extra pounds and my new cowboy boots and giddy with the success of our Texas road trip.  In case you were interested, we looked at the following lists before planning where to go:  

Daniel Vaughn’s 10 Favorite BBQ Joints in Texas (Daniel Vaughn is the Barbecue Editor for Texas Monthly – yes, they have a Barbecue Editor)

I can't wait to do it again -- there are still so many other places we want to visit in the state -- John Mueller's in Austin, Kreuz in Lockhart, Salt Lick in Driftwood . . . now we have new ones to check off plus those we want to revisit (Louie Mueller's!) so I'm sure we'll be back.   The state of Texas should market itself as a culinary destination and, obviously, I would happily be an ambassador for that.  Texas, call me and we'll talk.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Texas Road Trip - Part One

Warning - The next two posts will be gluttonous posts about meat.  Be wary, vegetarian friends. 

Two weeks ago, Robbie and I were in the midst of our four-day vacation.  This was the longest vacation we had taken since our honeymoon that wasn't dictated by weddings and family so it was discussed, chosen and planned with much care and attention to detail.  In typical fashion, we brushed aside the usual options of an island paradise or a long-weekend in a European capital and zeroed in on one priority - food.

You already know I have a food blog but you may not know that Robbie and I eat out a lot.  We love keeping up (as much as we can) with interesting and new restaurants in New York City.  Since I am from North Carolina, and Robbie is a warm-blooded male, we often end up at the latest bbq restaurants in the city.  I have learned to never expect to find a typical North Carolina-style chopped and pulled pork sandwich up here but I have been exposed to some delicious Kansas City bbq rubs and even a few hybrid styles of 'que. 

That being said, the piece of meat that had me at first bite was Texas brisket. 

Last week, we decided to explore Texas and the barbecue places that inspired NYC restaurants like Hill Country, Briskettown, and Fletcher's.  You see, I am convinced that without these joints in Taylor, Austin, La Grange, etc., New York City wouldn't know a piece of brisket from a pumpernickel bagel.  

After an early flight into Houston, we drove about two hours to Taylor, TX.  Taylor is about 30 minutes north of Austin, TX and on a wide side street sits Louie Mueller Barbecue. This place was not for the faint of heart.  The temperature was 94 degrees outside at the end of September (this would be a common theme the entire weekend - heat and humidity were rampant everywhere we went) and the restaurant was basically two, high ceiling rooms with the smoker in the back of one of the rooms and no air conditioner.  
Their fan placement is exactly how we cool our apartment in the summer.
I walked in and immediately knew I was going to smell like a smoker for the next week.  We ordered, got our food and sat down to a table filled with sausage links, brisket and the biggest beef rib I had ever seen.  This beef rib.  Oh, this beef rib.  It was by far the best thing I ate the entire trip.  They season the rib with only salt and pepper before letting the smoke and oak wood do their thing.  It tastes like butter.  In a good way.
Beef Rib and other lesser meats. (Good effort pickles.)
We climbed back into our Nissan Versa (bless our hearts) and headed to Austin where we explored our neighborhood (SoCo!) and met some friends for dinner.  We headed to bed early since we had to line up for our next BBQ visit bright and early the next morning - Franklin BBQ.  

Franklin is repeatedly voted the #1 bbq place in Texas and it did not disappoint.  First order of business is to get there hours before their 11 am opening or else you risk not getting any food that day.  We got there about 9:15 in the morning and were told by the lovely staff (who brought out water, beer and soft drinks for those in line) that our spot in line meant we would eat about 12 pm.  We ended up sitting down with food around 12:30 pm.  The hour or so until opening went by pretty fast but then, once folks started moving, the anticipation (and hanger) had gotten to me.  One of the owners chatted with us about New York and our favorite restaurants while he chopped us some brisket and ribs - it turns out he was a Momofuku empire fan too which was good to hear.  
The line at Franklin BBQ right at opening time.

Franklin is known for their brisket and it was equal to, if not a little better than, Briskettown here in New York.  I was surprised at how many locals were in line (do people in Austin not work?) so it must be legit if folks keep waiting in line.  

After filling up on bbq, we visited the University of Texas, Austin (hook 'em!), the State Capitol (which is so big because they thought Texas would be its own country) and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential library (where I decided I would start going by Mary Jordan Lady Bird Samuel).  After a visit to a couple of Austin's famous food trucks (one of which was made for me), we headed back to sleep off the calories (ha) before the next leg of our trip.
I think I see a Longhorn up there.

They did a good job with their State Capitol Building.

LBJ Archives.  He clearly was a reader.

Overall, I loved Austin and its eclectic vibe.  I was surprised at how there weren't many people out and about for it to be the state capital (maybe because it was too hot?) and be home to a major university.  Our neighborhood was a delight -- nearby, there were cute antique shops and an old-timey candy store (which I unfortunately discovered on our last day) but I did find the 7-Eleven within the first hour.  Big Gulps are the essential travel companion.  

Next up will be a recap of our Houston leg of the trip which completed our country-fication via a Miranda Lambert/Dierks Bentley concert and the purchase of real-live cowboy boots.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Zucchini and Lentils with Prosciutto

I knew I could count on September to bring me crisp mornings, cool breezes and sparkling views of the East River from my office windows.  And apparently a 96-degree day thrown in just as a reminder of how this month, just like its previous brethren, can produce a scorcher or two.  Well played, September.  

But before we kiss summer goodbye, I have one more warm weather-ish recipe for you.  I like it as a transitional piece -- like a good montage in a movie. Or like your basic navy blazer.  The lentils make me think of hearty fare while zucchini screams overflowing-garden-bounty and the prosciutto says . . . well the prosciutto confirms that pretty much anything is better with prosciutto. 

So if football was on your tv for 75% of the last six days even though the weather outside was over 80 degrees, if you are pairing boots with shorts, or if you have had your first fall beverage of choice from Starbucks but broke a sweat just holding it; stand proud and enjoy this dish.  Because it glows in summer freshness but has a hint of the promise that is to come - which is pumpkinLots and lots of pumpkin.

Zucchini and Lentils with Prosciutto
Adapted from Tender

For the Salad
3 Medium Zucchini
3/4 cup, small, dark green lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
a handful of chopped parsley
4 ounces of prosciutto 

For the dressing
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar 
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove of minced or chopped garlic

Slice the zucchini into disks as thinly as you can make them while still keeping them fairly sturdy.  Mine were probably a couple centimeters in thickness.  Put them in a colander with a sprinkling of salt and set aside to drain for at least twenty minutes.  Rinse your lentils and pick over any that seem a bit out-of=sorts.  Cook your lentils by boiling them in water until tender but keep a bit of a bite.  Drain them and set aside.  Make the dressing by mixing the vinegars, oil and garlic together with a dash of salt and pepper.  Once the lentils are drained, toss them with the dressing and cover.  Rinse the zucchini and saute them in a pan with the olive oil until they start to brown here and there (I tend to not cook mine very long for whatever reason).  Sprinkle everything with parsley as you see fit.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Blueberry Buckle

Happy long weekend!  I told myself I had to post a new recipe soon so I could get my soul-baring thoughts on turning 30 moved down on the homepage.  Being honest to a faceless computer screen can seem scary. 

I love Labor Day weekend because it is the 'official unofficial' end to summer.  Which means fall is just around the corner!  New York is giving its inhabitants one more balmy, warm weekend before, hopefully, showering us with crisp mornings and bright sunshine. 

As you may recall, I had developed a Summer Bucket List for the summer.  My focus on that, plus the fact it was a fairly mild summer compared to the summer of 2012, means I had a wonderful few months.  We did not check everything off but we did fairly well and went places that I would usually put off going (ie, never go).  We went to the Cloisters and Coney Island (squeezed this one in this weekend!).  We saw a baseball game (two in fact!) and took Newt on a walk a couple of times a month (granted most of them were to-and-from the vet).  And yes, taking Newt on a walk was on my bucket list because I feel bad keeping him in our box of an apartment all the time.
The exciting news is that I have now created a Fall 2013 Bucket List (Robbie was excited about the summer one . . . not so much about the fall one).  When will this madness stop, you wonder? I wish I knew.

I'll check back in around Thanksgiving with the outcome of the Fall 2013 Bucket List but, in the meantime, I wanted to share this Blueberry Buckle recipe with you.  If you have Labor Day off, there's nothing more comforting than sleeping in and waking up to enjoy a piece of cake you can eat for breakfast.  Put it in a red casserole dish and you have yourself a red, white and blue dessert. (Is Labor Day patriotic?  I need to Wikipedia that.)

Blueberry Buckle
Adapted from the "Fresh Blueberry Buckle" recipe from the Essential New York Times Cookbook
According to the cookbook (and some googling), a buckle has streusel on top.  Ironically, the streusel in this recipe doesn't show up as well once baked so I think I'll make a heartier streusel next time.

1 stick, softened, unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
2 cups blueberries
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (the original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom but I did not have any so I substituted the ginger and it was delicious)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Butter a 9-inch square baking dish (or a 7 x 11 rectangular dish which is what I used).  In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat half the butter with half of the sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Sift together 1 cup of the flour, the baking powder and salt.  Add alternately with the milk to the creamed mixture.  Start and end with the dry ingredients.  Pour into the baking dish and pour the blueberries over the dish.  In a separate bowl, combine the remaining sugar, 1/3 cup flour, ginger and nutmeg.  Cut in the remaining butter until the texture is that of a streusel topping (mine is always a little chunkier but it should be the same consistency of coarse cornmeal with some bigger pieces throughout).  Sprinkle over the blueberries and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cake is baked through.  The original recipe said to bake 40-50 minutes but in my small oven, it was ready after just 30 minutes. 

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.  (Or with a side of coffee.)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Chocolate Strawberry Nutella Cake

I turned 30 on Thursday.  When people found out it was my birthday and asked “Is it a big one?” I did the polite thing and said “Yes! 30!” even though, in my opinion, every birthday of mine is a big one.   After all, it is a celebration of the moment when I graced the earth but I did not want to sound more self-conceited than I already looked with my tiara and birthday sash on.   

In all seriousness though, 30 is a bit of a mind-bender for me.  Here I am, no longer living an age that begins with a 2 which, when I entered that period (now a full decade ago), I was in college and felt like I didn’t have much to worry about until post-education.  Now, having lived those 20-something years, I’m not in the middle of anything really except . . . living.  There isn’t any graduation or other indicator to tell me that this is the moment I should have my act together.  Apparently, I already should have that.

If you had asked my 20-year-old self what I expected my 30-year-old self to have accomplished by the time she enters a new decade, I shudder at the things she would have said because, in all likelihood, I have not done/bought/born any of them.   

But this is no time for regrets.  Because I can guarantee that my 20-year-old homebody-self would never have seen her 30-year-old self successfully living in a city that she has found intimidating-ly awesome since she first visited at the age of 11.  Or that she would have found a relatively normal existence in such an abnormal living arrangement that all folks living in New York seem to understand.  Or that she would have managed to keep a diabetic cat alive for 8 years (Just barely though, we did have to go to the vet on my birthday – he is his mother’s child, always trying to steal the spotlight). 

So, I must say, my 20-year-old self might be surprised but I’m confident she would be proud.   And probably a little in awe of her 30-something-self.  And I can’t blame her, I’m often in awe of these things too.  We all should feel this way because, in all honesty, what do our 20-something-selves really know?  Not nearly as much as I do now and I can’t wait to see what my 40-year-old self knows (just kidding, I can wait for that). 

Even so, I imagine all these women representing these stages in my life will have the same fundamental Mary Jordan-ness.  We’ll have the same self-deprecating humor, an extreme sense of protectiveness to those whom she loves, a dedication to all things Duke, the tendency to over-analyze things (see previous six paragraphs) and an utter adoration for anything with sugar in it. 

Chocolate Strawberry Nutella Cake
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Note: The original recipe linked above is for a two-layer cake, but I halved everything and just made a one-layer cake.  I am anticipating my metabolism slowing down now that I'm 30.

For the Cake
1 stick butter
2 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup boiling water
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup buttermilk
1 egg
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup Nutella (or more, depending upon if you want a good smearing or a thin layer on top)

For the Strawberries
1 pint of strawberries
1/8 cup of sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla

For the Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup powdered sugar

Slice and hull your strawberries.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line one round baking pan with some parchment paper and spray with baking spray.  Melt the butter in the microwave.  Add the cocoa, stirring until smooth.  Add the boiling water and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients.  Mix buttermilk, baking soda, eggs and vanilla together in a bowl.  Set this aside as well.  In a large mixing bowl, mix together the sugar, flour and salt.  Add the hot chocolate mixture, stirring very gently until it is halfway combined.  Pour in the buttermilk mixture and stir very gently until the batter is completely combined.  Pour the batter into your prepared baking pan and bake for 17-20 minutes until just set.  Let the cake cool completely in the pan before doing anything with it  (I was impatient and that’s why my cake has a ‘rustic-edged’ look to it). 

Prepare the strawberries by stirring them with the sugar and the vanilla, letting them sit for 15 minutes.

Using a mixer, whip the cream with the powdered sugar. 

Assemble the cake by turning out your cake from its pan once it has cooled.  Spread the Nutella on top of the cake’s surface.  Spread the whipped cream on top of the Nutella and garnish with your strawberries.  (The juice left over from the macerated strawberries is delicious.  I recommend just drinking it straight from the bowl with a straw.)  Keep chilled until serving.  My cake lasted a few hours before we served it and it held up quite nicely.